From Russia, with gloves: Korobov signs with Top Rank

Updated: September 16, 2008, 11:21 AM ET
By Dan Rafael | ESPN.com

Russian Olympic middleweight Matvey Korobov, a two-time world amateur champion, signed Monday night with promotional powerhouse Top Rank and manager Cameron Dunkin and will pursue his professional career in the United States.

[+] EnlargeMatvey Jacques
JACQUES DEMARTHON/Getty ImagesRussia's Matvey Korobov, left, will make his pro debut Nov. 1. He was upset by Bakhtiyar Artayev, right, in the early rounds of the Beijing Games.

"He's terrific. He didn't lose a fight for like five or six years," Dunkin said. "He won everything other than the Olympics. He's a quiet kid, very respectful, clean cut, no problems. He's my kind of guy. He's like my other guys, Steven Luevano, Kelly Pavlik or [Nonito] Donaire. He's always smiling and happy to fight. No games."

Korobov, a southpaw who won the world amateur title in 2005 and 2007 (the tournament is held every two years) as well as the 2006 European championship, was stunningly upset in the preliminary round of the Beijing Olympics, which he entered as the clear favorite to win gold in the 165-pound division.

However, after winning his opening match, he lost 10-7 to Kazakhstan's Bakhtiyar Artayev, the 2004 Olympic welterweight champion. He trailed Korobov 7-6 going into the final round but rallied for the victory.

Despite the unexpected defeat, the 25-year-old Korobov has a style that should help him quickly adapt to the professional game.

"I think he's going to go a little faster than most of my guys," Dunkin said. "I'm not in any rush with him, but I think he will be in play after 18 fights. He's not somebody you have to baby. He's very physically strong. We'll put him with a good trainer and shore up his amateur style to more of a pro style and let him go."

Dunkin said he was talking with Dan Birmingham, known best for his work with Winky Wright and Jeff Lacy, about becoming his trainer.

"This has been my longtime dream," Korobov, who speaks some English, said of turning pro. "I want to be a world champion. I was a world champion twice as an amateur. I want very much to be one as a professional."

Korobov, who received undisclosed signing bonuses from Top Rank and Dunkin, will make his professional debut Nov. 1. His bout will be televised on the pay-per-view undercard of the Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.-Matt Vanda rematch at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, Dunkin said.

Dunkin said he hopes Korobov's second bout will come on the Dec. 6 Oscar De La Hoya-Manny Pacquiao card, which Top Rank is co-promoting with Golden Boy.

Korobov should have an easier time than many foreign fighters adjusting to life in the States. His parents, George and Larissa, have lived in Lantana, Fla., since 1998 and his brother lives in Orlando. When his family moved to the U.S., Korobov remained in Russia to pursue his amateur boxing career.

Korobov, who began boxing at age 8, was perhaps the most dominant fighter in any division entering the Olympics. In the three major tournaments he won, he had 16 matches. Eleven ended by stoppage, nine on the scoring mercy rule and two when his opponent retired. Of the remaining five fights that went the distance, he won each by at least 16 points.

Top Rank doesn't typically sign many Olympians, but it has a tremendous track record of cherry-picking top talent. After the 1992 Games, it signed De La Hoya. Following the 1996 Games, its top Olympic signing was Floyd Mayweather Jr., while Miguel Cotto was the prize after the 2000 Olympics. And Vanes Martirosyan, an undefeated rising junior middleweight prospect, was the only 2004 Olympian the company signed.

"Every four years, Top Rank signs a guy it gets really excited about out of the Olympics," Dunkin said. "Cotto, De La Hoya, Mayweather, those guys turned out special. Matvey is the guy they're looking at to fill those shoes."

Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.